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Most employees want to do a good job. Sometimes, however, it's necessary to let workers know their behavior needs improvement. For most managers, the preferred approach is progressive discipline, in which employees get a chance to address the problem. Under this model, an employee who doesn't respond appropriately faces increasingly severe sanctions that range from reprimands, to suspension, and eventually, termination of employment.
Defining Progressive Discipline
The type of discipline depends on the issue facing the employer. If the problem is knowledge- or skills-based, allowing time to correct the deficiency is a reasonable response. However, you need not wait for employees to address behavioral issues like constant tardiness. If the worker doesn't correct the problem, you can get his attention with a stiffer punishment.
A written reprimand is appropriate when the employee ignores a verbal warning about his behavior. The reprimand outlines the incident, why the behavior is inappropriate, what needs to change, and the consequences of non-compliance. A copy should go in the employee's personnel file after he signs it. The signature shows the employee has read the document, but doesn't convey agreement or disagreement.
Temporary Pay Cut
If problems continue, a temporary pay cut can be the next step. As a rule, these types of reductions are implemented in full-step increments over one or two months, the Oregon State Personnel Department manual states. This option is particularly appropriate when you're trying to correct the quality or quantity of work being done, but the situation isn't severe enough to trigger dismissal.
Performance Improvement Plan
A performance improvement plan outlines specific actions that an employee must take to meet your expectations. The worker may provide written comments, if he wishes, but should realize that you're not renegotiating the terms of improving his performance. The employee must understand that he can either follow the plan -- whether he accepts it, or not -- or lose his job for noncompliance.
A written suspension notice is often the final step before termination. The letter outlines the suspension's length, when the employee may return to work, what's needed to correct the problem, and the consequences of not making the required changes. If the employee can appeal the action, he must be informed of the relevant steps and deadlines for doing so.
Demotion and Termination
Demotion involves reassigning an employee to a lower-paying position. This option is typically invoked for a worker who hasn't improved his performance, but might function successfully in a different role. Termination of employment comes into play for continuing behavioral problems or outright misconduct, such as theft of company funds. As an alternative, the employer may also issue a "last chance" agreement for the worker to sign.
The disciplinary process functions differently in unionized workplaces. Under the Weingarten Rights doctrine, named for the person whose case led to the 1975 Supreme Court ruling that established it, an employee can request union representation at a meeting that may lead to disciplinary action. A representative may ask clarifying questions of the employee, but can't advise him how to answer. However, the representative is allowed to describe prior situations or other mitigating factors that may impact an employer's decision.
How to Write a Memo for an Employee's Discipline→
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What Should the Manager Say to an Employee Who Is Insubordinate?→
What Is Insubordination in the Workplace?→
Disciplinary Protocols for the Workplace→
How to Administer Employee Discipline→
- ICS Cleaning Specialist: Discipline in the Workplace
- Kahn, Smith & Collins, P.A.: Weingarten Rights: An Overview for Baltimore Area Union Leaders
- The University of British Columbia: HR For Administrators: Discipline in the Workplace
- University of South Florida: USF Progressive Steps for Disciplinary Action
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.